1948 Echoes and Lessons in Independence Day 2024

Every year right after Passover, there is a somber week during which Israelis observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day. This year, in light of the October 7th massacre, the ensuing war against Hamas and the dramatic rise of global antisemitism, Israelis are experiencing this week of memorials from fresh wounds of tragedy, loss, increasing antisemitism and global isolation.

In particular, we are seeing some haunting similarities between 1948 and 2024 through which we feel God challenging and encouraging us with meaningful lessons from the past.

The Context of Israel’s Declaration of Independence

To give some context to the developments leading up to the moment the fledgling Jewish settlement in their ancient homeland bravely announced their independence, it is important to know that from 1920 to 1948 the British controlled the area called “Palestine” after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI.

It is worth knowing the source of the name “Palestine”: it does not have roots in the identity of the local Arab tribes living in the area under Ottoman rule but rather in the Roman occupation of Judea in the 1st century. In 135 AD after the second Jewish revolt, the Romans replaced the name Judea with “Palestina” in order to erase Jewish connection to the Land and to spite the Jews by naming their homeland and namesake, Judea, after their ancient enemies, the Philistines. Interestingly, the Philistine’s core settlement was located in the area that encompasses today’s Gaza Strip.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved a plan that would partition British Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jews accepted the plan but the Arabs rejected it out of hand and immediately began attacking Jewish Settlements. Caught in an increasingly violent conflict between the Jews and Arabs, the British were intent on ending their colonial responsibilities in Palestine and, in April 1948, announced that the official termination of British Mandate Palestine would happen on May 14th, 1948. It wasn’t the British withdrawal that made that date meaningful. The fame and importance of this day come from the fact that it was the date when Ben Gurion made the declaration of the Independent State of Israel. One day later, on Saturday May 15th 1948, five Arab armies invaded the day-old Israel.

 

David Ben-Gurion publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948, Tel Aviv, Israel.

 

The Declaration of Independence – An Act of Faith, Bravery or Insanity?

During their time ruling “Palestine”, the British were actively engaged in disarming Jewish militias up until the last day of their mandate on May 14, 1948. The Jewish paramilitary groups, which ultimately formed into the Israeli Defense Forces just two weeks after the Declaration of Independence, were highly motivated but poorly armed. While doing their best to find and seize Jewish weapons, the British were training and arming professional armies in Jordan and Egypt with modern armaments. The French Colonial powers were doing the same in Syria.

When the five Arab armies invaded the day-old State of Israel, these were armies that had been trained and armed by British and French colonial administrations. Of course it had not been their intent to train these forces in order that they would attack and prevail against the “illegal” Jewish State. However, the fact of the matter remains that when the British pulled out and the Arab armies attacked, the imbalance of firepower between the newly-formed IDF and the Arab armies was staggering: the Arab armies had much greater firepower with modern guns, tanks and even air forces. At the moment of the Declaration of Independence on May 14th, the Jewish State had guns and Molotov cocktails.  By May 18, the only heavy weaponry the IDF had were four old-fashioned howitzers used by the French army in the Franco-Prussian war.

 

A 1906 French cannon the IDF coined “The Little Napoleon” in the battle for Beer Sheba in 1948

 

Consequently, due to increasing violence and tensions in the Middle East, the United States, Britain and the United Nations enacted arms embargos against Israel and the Arab countries in Middle East. While the arms embargo was applied equally to the fledgling Jewish state and the Arab states, the Jewish state was in a woeful position as far as weapons while the Arab armies were fully armed. Over the course of Israel’s war of independence, Israel would be able to slowly procure weapons from Europe, much of which was World War I weaponry or even older. Czechoslovakia was the only government to flout the US, British and UN arms embargo to help Israel.

 

Israeli anti-aircraft battery attempting to shoot down Lebanese aircraft attacking the Galilee in 1948

 

Against All Odds – the place where miracles happen

Looking at the image of IDF warriors using a 48-year-old cannon to fight in the War of Independence, I am in awe. I know that they weren’t just fighting for their independence. They were fighting for their survival, even if it meant using forty-year-old cannons or Molotov cocktails. They knew that defeat at the hands of the Arab armies would mean a complete massacre of the Jewish settlement – October 7th- style. Today in Israel, we have the most advanced and cutting edge weaponry supplied by the US, and we can’t imagine facing the hostile Muslim armies around us without being armed to the teeth with it. On October 7th, Israel felt assured in its military, its state of the art border fence around the Gaza Strip and its first class intelligence gathering – and in that moment it was actually never weaker.

Threats of Embargos and International Pressure

On May 9th, US President Jo Biden announced that the US would halt the delivery of bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it invaded Rafa in the Gaza Strip, causing many in Israel to panic and Israel’s enemies, Iran included, to applaud with glee. For three months, the fighting against the Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip has been paused, and Israelis and pundits alike have been wondering, “What are we waiting for? When are we going to invade Rafa and finish the job?” When Israeli forces finally entered Rafa, the American threat of even a partial embargo frightened many in Israel.

It has become obvious that the Netanyahu government has been holding off invading Rafa, the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip, because of American pressure. The Biden government is being steamrolled by the extremist left and Free-Palestinian mobs in an election year. In Israel there is a sickening feeling that we are losing heart and losing momentum while Hamas gains support around the world and gets to play for time with never-ending sham hostage negations.

We of course know that God was involved in the miracle of the birth of the state of Israel in 1948 against all odds – a nation born out of the ashes of the Holocaust and a prevailing climate of deep-seated antisemitism in most countries and governments. Back in 1948, President Truman who was in support of the Jewish State, ultimately gave in to an anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic State Department and influential politicians who were interested in good relations with Arab oil states.

Today, I believe that the horrific attack on October 7th, the success and scope of which is mind-boggling, was God’s judgment against us in Israel in order to wake us up to seek Him and to make us get our priorities straight. At the same time, whenever God brings judgement upon Israel, He is also testing the nations as well as to how they will treat Israel in that moment. Right now, open rage and hatred of Israel and Jews is being expressed in ways we never imagined seeing again.

1948 and 2024 – a calendar convergence

Israel observes its national and biblical holidays with the Hebrew lunar calendar which moves by several days from year to year, even more in leap years like this year. The solar Gregorian calendar does not move in the same way so that, for instance, the first night of Passover 2023 fell on April 5th, and in 2024 it fell on April 22nd. This year, the Day of Independence, which is on the 5th of Iyar of the Hebrew calendar, falls on May 14th of the Gregorian calendar. In 1948, the 5th of Iyar fell on May 14th as well. This calendar convergence is not going unnoticed in Israel at a times she finds herself after the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and in the greatest existential threat since the Yom Kippur war – the 50th anniversary of which fell on…October 7th of 2023.

So what does this convergence mean, if anything at all? For me, it is a stark reminder that our fate as a nation is in God’s hands, not our own and not in the amount or the quality of the weaponry we have. It is also a reminder that even if all our allies abandon us, God will not abandon us. When we realize that we are reliant on Him alone, the stress and anxiety of what the world is doing melts away. This Independence Day I am encouraged by the story of the victory God gave us in 1948 against all odds. We know that He did not return us to this land miraculously, in fulfilment of biblical prophecy, in order to destroy us. Though the nations will rage against us, it will get to the point where Messiah Himself will come and fight on our behalf.

A Great Need for Prayer

The starkest difference I see between Israel in 1948 and Israel today is the quality in her leadership. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, was an extraordinary, single-minded, hard-working, no-nonsense man devoted to the State of Israel. He lived simply and worked hard. It is rare that political leaders have that quality, and doubtless they are men for the hour, just like Winston Churchill was in WWII Europe. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government were beleaguered and compromised before October 7th, and now they are under immense pressure from within and without. Israelis know that Netanyahu has difficulty with making bold, critical decisions and withstanding international pressure. Please join us in prayer the God would guide and strengthen Prime Minister Netanyahu and his war cabinet to make bold decisions without fear and that their hearts would be instructed by the fear of the Lord instead!

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